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The Lil Nas X controversy: When Jesus turns scandalous

Lil Nas X has defended himself against public scrutiny several times in the past few years. His self-titled album and song “MONTERO" broke the internet back in 2021 due to its controversial imagery. The music video included the singer sliding on a stripper’s pole down to Hell and giving the devil a lap dance. 

This led to a Twitter feud involving Christian users on the app. Following the discourse, Lil Nas X released limited-edition Satan-themed shoes, which he said included a drop of his blood. Two years later, he is again receiving backlash for his creative liberties in his new single, "J CHRIST."

The “J CHRIST" cover art and music video

The "J CHRIST" cover art depicts Lil Nas X as Jesus on the cross. In an Instagram post, he said the cover is "dedicated to the man who had the greatest comeback of all time." 

The music video shows a great deal of symbolism about rebirth, reformation and combating demons. He put LGBTQIA+ people, especially BIPOC LGBTQIA+ members, at the forefront of his music video. 

Many biblical scenes are referenced in his video. One of them is Noah's Ark, a popular symbol of rebirth and new beginnings after the literal destruction and rebirth of the world.

In a TikTok video, Lil Nas X breaks down a few more of the many references in his music video, including Windows XP Wallpaper, "Bring It On" (2000), Roddy Rich's "The Box" and Moses parting the Red Sea.

Also included in the music video is the legendary Ts Madison, the first Black transgender woman to star and executive produce her own reality series.

At the end of the music video for “J CHRIST," a quote from 2 Corinthians 5:17 appears: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come." 

This message explains the entire meaning behind the singer's newest concept: a new age and a new beginning. Lil Nas X is marking a new era in his artistry.  

The Backlash

Since the music video's premiere, Lil Nas X has received hate for using biblical imagery in his video. 

Twitch streamer Kai Cenat had much to say during one of his live streams: "God gonna handle you, bro. He's extremely disrespectful. Go on his page, bro. He's disrespecting God himself. He's disrespecting the whole culture." He even goes as far as to say he hates the rapper. 

Many Christians online say that his song is mocking God, Jesus and Christianity. Numerous people claim the song is blasphemous. 

Most of this condemnation can be attributed to the usage of Satanic imagery in his last album, "MONTERO." Numerous members of the public accused him of promoting Satan and Satanic practices. 

This garnered the opinions of Candace Owens, an American conservative commentator. She tweeted that Lil Nas X's Satan shoes were a real cause of Black oppression in America. 

Lil Nas X also openly expresses his sexual orientation. In an article for Billboard, he responded to a homophobic and cruel tweet from rapper Boosie Baddazz, who told the "J CHRIST" rapper to commit suicide while spouting various other harmful ideologies based on Lil Nas X's sexual orientation. The tweet has since been deleted. 

How has Lil Nas X responded to this backlash?

Lil Nas X posted a video on Instagram explaining his intentions for the "J CHRIST" video. 

"I know I messed up really bad this time. I can act unbothered all I want, but it's definitely taken a mental toll on me," he stated on Instagram. "I'm not some evil demon guy trying to destroy everybody's values and stuff like that. That's not me."

He states that his use of biblical imagery conveys a message of rebirth, citing how he used it to pay homage to Jesus Christ and reference a notorious comeback.

"When I did the artwork, I knew there would be some upset people simply because religion is a very sensitive topic for a lot of people,“ he continued. “But I also didn't mean to mock. This wasn't a f--- you to the Christians. It was literally me saying, ‘I'm back like Jesus."

He further explains that his background can change the perception of his current project: "I know given my history with the ('MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)') video, anything that I do relate to religion can be seen as mockery. That just was not the case with this."

He has also posted multiple tweets expressing his feelings on the discourse surrounding his music video: 

One tweet states: "I've crossed satan up and broke his ankles, snapped his neck and literally killed him, made a song referencing the return of Jesus, and somehow yall still think im a satanist. I can not win lmaooo."

In another tweet, he replies to a now-limited tweet, expressing his frustration with the changing narrative surrounding his creative works and expression by the public: "Y'all just be talking to talk because if anybody knows me as an artist, y'all know I put my life and soul into everything I do. The entire Montero album was me being vulnerable. You lot are rewriting history like hell, and honestly, f*** yall for that."

Lil Nas X has been very vocal in the press and conversation surrounding his art, making sure that his true intentions and purpose are known. While he is currently the artist getting the most flack for it, he surely is not the only artist to use Jesus or biblical imagery as a tool for expression. 

Why do other artists get a pass?

As stated best by Lil Nas X himself, he is not the first -- nor will he be the last -- artist to dress up as Jesus in a music video. 

Madonna's 1989 song "Like a Prayer" received much backlash for its music video's imagery, including burning crosses, the appearance of wounds in the same areas as Christ during the crucifixion, and the coming-to-life and kissing of a Black Jesus statue. The video is now banned at the Vatican. 

Lil Nas X is receiving a similar backlash to what Madonna faced back then. While the criticism against Madonna was fueled by anti-feminist sentiments, the current Lil Nas X backlash is fueled by homophobia.

To compare, rapper DaBaby released a single titled "TOUGHSKIN” music video shows images of him tied to a cross. The video also shows men with white masks and red suits trying to harm him with a saw but being unable to, as he has tough skin. 

When brought into the conversation combatting the scrutiny of Lil Nas X, people deflected by saying the song didn't receive much attention when it was released. However, the video currently has over 2.1 million views on YouTube and 3.4 million play counts on Spotify. 

After his inappropriate comments made at Rolling Loud Miami in 2021, DaBaby's reputation took a major hit. However, none of it caused any advert scrutiny when he paid homage to Jesus in his creative statement on rebirth and perseverance. 

While pop-rap artist Doja Cat's album "Scarlet“ was indeed controversial, it didn't receive that much public scrutiny specifically from the Christian community. In a music video for "Paint The Town Red," Doja Cat is seen riding a green creature with horns, dressing up in red and posing as a couple with the grim reaper.

While she did receive public backlash for this, it was not nearly as long-lasting. The conversation surrounding Doja Cat's creative expression has been very quiet. She is selling out concerts and even breaking records. The music video for "Paint The Town Red" currently has 177.1 million views on YouTube and the song has 801.5 million play counts on Spotify. 

DaBaby and Doja Cat definitely received different reactions than Lil Nas X. While DaBaby's went undetected, Doja Cat's comeback with the “Scarlet” album was extremely successful. Even seemingly boosting her career even more. 

This may be because some artists take their work more seriously; Lil Nas X has been a troll for many years, and people tend to take his serious intentions as mockery. 

In an Instagram video and tweet on X, formerly known as Twitter, he said: "The problem is y'all judge everything at face value. I've never released a visual without an underlying meaning and y'all know that. But since I'm a troll, y'all discount my art as just 'pissing ppl off'."

This is very well true. However, the added criticism of his sexual orientation and race has added layers to the scrutiny he gets from both inside and outside his own communities. 

While Lil Nas X has admittedly handled situations poorly and had ideas misconstrued, his creative mind and works of expression deserve to be treated fairly. He himself stated a great point: "People have been recreating biblical stories for thousands of years. Everybody devout Christians when Lil Nas walks in the room, though."

Christianity is the most widely practiced religion in the world. It is one of the most explored and spread throughout history. The use of biblical imagery, literature and symbolism has been around longer than the first of the Crusades. The use of Jesus' likeness to make political and creative points has been around since the first century and will continue to be. 


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